Indonesia’s Muslim Counter Radicalization Movements
(Paul Marshall, September 11, 2019)
Transcript available below
About the speaker
Paul Marshall is Wilson Distinguished Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University and a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Leimena Institute, Jakarta, Indonesia, and Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta.
Mr. Marshall is the author and editor of more than twenty books on religion and politics, especially religious freedom, including Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians (2013, with Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea), Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide (2011, with Nina Shea), Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion (2009), Religious Freedom in the World (2007), Radical Islam’s Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Sharia Law (2005), The Rise of Hindu Extremism (2003), Islam at the Crossroads (2002), God and the Constitution (2002), The Talibanization of Nigeria (2002), Massacre at the Millennium (2001), Religious Freedom in the World (2000), Egypt’s Endangered Christians (1999), Just Politics (1998), Heaven Is Not My Home (1998), A Kind of Life Imposed on Man (1996), and the best-selling, award-winning survey of religious persecution worldwide Their Blood Cries Out (1997).
He is the author of several hundred articles, and his writings have been translated into Russian, German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Danish, Albanian, Japanese, Malay, Korean, Arabic, Farsi, and Chinese. He is in frequent demand for lectures and media appearances, including interviews on ABC Evening News; CNN; PBS; Fox; the British, Australian, Canadian, South African, and Japanese Broadcasting Corporations; and Al Jazeera. His work has been published in, or is the subject of, articles in the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, Christian Science Monitor, First Things, New Republic, Weekly Standard, Reader’s Digest, and many other newspapers and magazines.
Mr. Marshall is also a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Religion at Baylor University. He was also a part of the Christianity and Freedom Project headed by the Berkley Center’s Religious Freedom Project.
Robert R. Reilly:
Now, our speaker tonight as you know is Paul Marshall, and he is the Wilson Distinguished Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University, and a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for many years, and I thank him deeply for coming here tonight.
Apropos of his subject this evening are his affiliations in Indonesia in Jakarta where he’s a Senior Fellow in the Leimena Institute and a Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta. Paul has written and edited more than twenty books. I invite your attention to them. They’re a national – no, an international treasure.
I’ll just mention Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, the book with Nina Shea, Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide, which I had the pleasure of reviewing, Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion, etc. He just happened to have here one of the books he edited, Radical Islam’s Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Sharia Law. Tonight, Paul will be addressing us on the subject of “Indonesia’s Muslim Counter Radicalization Movements.” Welcome.
Thank you very much, Bob, and thank you very much for having me here. It’s a great pleasure, and for me also a great pleasure to say some things about Indonesia. I’ll clarify some of the ideological and theological developments within Indonesian Islam, but I will intersperse those with some more personal stories, which I think will bring home at least some of the flavor of the dominant forms of Indonesian Islam.
Missing the Violence
You may remember in a host of recent attacks on religious institutions, 300 people were killed in bombings of hotels and churches in Sri Lanka earlier this year, and in Christchurch in New Zealand, a man armed with a rifle went to more than one mosque, shooting up Muslims, and in the Western media, dealing with Western pundits was a question of you know how and why does such a terrible thing occur? And obviously, there is for the man who did it a sort of rightwing, anti-Muslim and indeed, more generally anti-foreigner ideology similar to the man who remember did the killings in Norway, Anders Breivik, very similar outlook.
There was a lot of self-criticism in the West because of those attacks, but one counter needs to be made that for every such attack, there are ten or twenty attacks going if I can put it this way in the other way. Indeed, if you take Nigeria alone, there would be ten or twenty such attacks going on very regularly, and not many people pointed this out.
Problems with Orthodoxy
But earlier this year on March 24 about two weeks after those killings in New Zealand, there was a remarkable article in the London newspaper The Daily Telegraph. It was titled, “How can we prevent another atrocity like the one in Christchurch?” It stressed many things, but it also stressed the urgent need to address – and I quote – the “problematic elements of Islamic orthodoxy… [including] jihadist doctrine, goals and strategy [that] can be traced to specific tenets of orthodox, authoritative Islam and its historic practice.”
Note the focus here is not on interpretations of Islam or misinterpretations of Islam or politicizations of Islam. It is very specifically on the “problematic elements of Islamic orthodoxy.” The term is there. “Jihadist doctrine,” “Al Qaeda,” “ISIS,” but all these strategies “can be traced to specific tenets of orthodox, authoritative Islam.” Quite a remarkable, dramatic article to have in a newspaper.
It goes on: “amongst the problematic elements of Islamic orthodoxy include ‘those portions of Shariah,” Islamic law. Well, Shariah is much more than Islamic law, Islamic normativity, law, morals, practice “that promote Islamic supremacy, encourage enmity towards non-Muslims and require the establishment of a caliphate. It is these elements – still taught by most Sunni and Shiite institutions – that constitute a summons to perpetual conflict.'”
At first glance this might seem to be an Islamophobic criticism, but who wrote the article? Yahya Cholil Staquf. ‘Kyai Haji’ means he has been on the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. ‘Kyai’ is the Indonesian term for a senior and revered teacher, so Kyai Haji is an honorific. Yahya Cholil Staquf is from one of Indonesia’s most distinguished families. He is the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Nahdlatul Ulama, which is the world’s largest Muslim organization. Depending on how you count it, it has between 50 an 90 million members. That means it has more members than any Arab country has people.
He is head of its youth wing, Ansor or youth. They call it youth wing, it is young adult. The cut-off is age forty-five. I like their definition of youth. Ansor alone has some five million members. It also has a militia, Banser. He is among the Muslim world’s most incisive reformers.
So note this, the man who said the thing I just quoted is the general secretary of the world’s largest Muslim organization. Obviously, I do not know what things you know and do not know, but I would say typically in Washington most people, even those who work on things related to Islam have never heard of this. It is great for me because I can quote all these things and when people jump down my throat I just say I am just quoting the general secretary of the world’s largest Muslim organization. This is what he said. Who am I to argue? So again, he is not a fringe figure.
The Islamic World Today
To emphasize this point: again, when we think of Islam – I do not want to impute things for you, but generically there is a tendency to think of Islam as Arab, but only one in five Muslims is an Arabic speaker and again, there is a very high proportion of Arabic speakers who are not Muslims. And [there is a general tendency] to think of Islam as largely Middle Eastern. You have a large population in Egypt, the largest one in the Arab world, but then Turkey is fairly large.
After we go from there, where have we got? Nigeria, we have Pakistan, we have India, we have Bangladesh, and we have Indonesia. These four are the largest Muslim population countries. More Muslims live from the Pakistani border east than live west of it. So this is where we are talking about not necessarily the most influential [leaders], but in terms of people this is where the world’s Muslims are. So one of the general points I want to make is we do need to pay attention to Islam outside of the greater Middle East. For example, Indonesia, but in other places too. India would be an example. Almost no Indian Muslims – and they are under a lot of pressure with what is going on in Kashmir – have joined groups such as Al Qaeda.
Pay Attention to Muslims Outside of the Middle East
So one of the general points I want to make is we need to pay attention to Islam outside the greater Middle East, for example, Indonesia, but in other places too. India would be an example. Almost no Indian Muslims – and they are under a lot of pressure with what is going on in Kashmir – have joined groups such as Al Qaeda or ISIS. They are very similar to the Indonesians, and one of the things we are doing at Hudson is bringing Indian and Indonesian Muslim scholars together.
Just to take one example: the man on the left – who is basically blind at this point – is the former President of Indonesia, which is the world’s largest in population Muslim country with a population of about 270 million, and he was the head of Nahlatul Ulama, which is the world’s largest Muslim organization. I had met him a couple of times, beginning in 1989, and this was later on after he had ceased to be president in about 2004.
I managed to have dinner with him, which was a fun time. It was very hard to get him serious because he had this enormous fondness for George Bush jokes, which he wanted to get through. We actually managed to get to other things, but he was a remarkable man in many ways. Now I will just give one illustration and go on.
This is a book my colleague at Hudson, Nina Shea, and I wrote called Silenced: How Apostasy & Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide. We do a survey. We also comment on the West and the United Nations system, but largely on Muslim majority countries. We do surveys of some 36 of them and not only the legal situation – this could be a separate presentation – if you are accused of blasphemy in many places, that is dangerous as far as the courts and the law and the state is involved, but much more dangerous is terrorists and the mob.
Pakistan, for example, has the strictest blasphemy laws in the world. Nobody has been executed in the modern age for blasphemy in Pakistan, but there are a lot of bodies. People are accused. A mob gets you, burns you alive or you are killed by the police or the police just put you into a cell with a dozen people who say he is a blasphemer, and you are gone. That tends to be the most dangerous element, so we survey these elements.
Also, most of the book deals with Muslims, particularly Muslim reformers who are accused of this. Now, we want this book to be read everywhere, but also in the Muslim world. How do we do this? It is a dangerous book. We have an Arabic translation, but finding an Arabic publisher… There is no one with an address in the Arab world who is going to touch it, but you can find it on the web, okay? We just posted it out there for anybody.
Even in Indonesia – we have a long story – we have an Indonesian translation and the publisher pulled out at the last minute. I talked to an Indonesian friend about this and he said we might be able to get an introduction from this man, which, indeed, he wrote and I commend this book to you. The introduction is called, “God Needs No Defense.” That tells the argument. You just say I do not like blasphemy, I hate blasphemy, I am not going to talk to them. But God is perfectly capable of looking after them, the State should stay out of it, and that was written by Abdurrahman Wahid.
Another anecdote to go with this: this book, Silenced, came out in 2011 and I was in Indonesia for many reasons. One of them was to talk about this book, and some friends at the Leimena Institute where I am a Fellow – this is a Christian think tank in Jakarta, Indonesia – said we want a roundtable discussion with about a dozen senior Christian and Muslim leaders on this book Silenced.
I said okay, I got there, and I said how do you want to go? He says, ‘You do not need to talk too much, ten minutes, this is a round table and there are twelve of us that want to talk about it, and we have a respondent to you.’ I said who is the respondent? It is Nasser ud-Din Ummah. And I said who is Nasser ud-Din Ummah? Well, he is the Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs. Actually, not too long after he became the Acting Minister of Religious Affairs. So I am dealing with the senior civil servant in the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
Silenced in Indonesia
Pak Ummah – Pak means Mr. in Indonesian, so Pak Ummah would be Mr. Ummah – he has a copy of the book. Where he got it, I do not know, it had just come out. I thought the only copies in Indonesia were the ones I brought in my luggage, and he had read it. That surprised me. He had gone through it and he discussed it, and he invited me to go to the Ministry the following week and run training sessions with the staff of the Ministry on this issue. And he also said that if we had an Indonesian translation, he would write a foreword to it, which he did, except it was the publisher who backed out in the end. [He] got scared for local reasons.
So here I am, firstly, with a foreword written by a former President of the country and a head of the largest Muslim organization, being discussed by the Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs, who would write a foreword to the other one. This is when you realize you are in a different world here. In Egypt or Jordan – and I know very good people there, and [they would tell us], ‘Sorry, you know why we cannot touch this.’ So that is background on dynamics in Indonesia, and let us move on.
I opened with talking about Pak Yahya, the current General Secretary, and the article he had in The Daily Telegraph. About two months afterwards he was appointed to the presidential advisory council. That is sort of advisory but actually if you are on that council, you have to have a diplomatic passport and you cannot travel without the permission of the president, so it actually has some clout. At this point he was quite controversial so it was a blessing. Three weeks later, by the way, he made a visit to Israel, including meeting with Netanyahu, which he said was a private visit, which I could believe. But as I said, he could not travel without the permission of the Indonesian President. So [there are] a lot of things going on.
But Pak Yahya’s statements do not come out of the blue, it is not like he and Abdurrahman Wahid, the older guy that I mentioned, it is not as though they just sprung up out of the ground with these views, that they are just wonderful people who happen to have very open views of Islam. They build on a lot of the culture within traditional Indonesian Islam; and just a couple of pictures to illustrate this.
I have no idea who this lady is. I was visiting a mosque, which you could confuse with a Chinese temple. It was a Chinese mosque in Surabaya, and the walls of the mosque are covered with murals showing the visit of the famous 14th century Chinese admiral Zheng He, who was a Muslim, his visit from China to Indonesia. So if you think Muslims do not paint images of human beings, just go to this Chinese mosque.
But anyway we were walking out and they were selling various things along the sidewalk, and [we] came across this lady with this hijab with the stars and stripes, so I just said, may I take your photograph? She said fine. I have got another one of her and me, so I did, and she volunteered the peace sign. I regret I did not ask her, “could I use it publicly,” because it would be a great shot. I think she would be quite happy, but I cannot. I can use it here, but I cannot publish it in an article. I just do not know. But anyway. I love that as a picture of Indonesian Islam.
Okay, there are terrorists out there, there are bombers out there, this Wahhabis in Indonesia, I am not saying everything is a piece of light. But just walking around the street and meet someone with the Stars and Stripes on the hijab. The cultural background is this, particularly in the central island of Java. A big stress on harmony and openness, and not criticizing people. And this can extend even to store signs. Okay [showing a picture], this is in the old capital of Jakarta. I am in a store, buying something and I looked at the sign, which I took a photograph of. Now again, I do not want to over emphasize this, Indonesia is full of signs which say no smoking. But it also has this, the idea that, well you do not want to criticize someone, you do not want to tell someone they are wrong. Big stress on harmony, and so you say, well smoking is good. But not smoking is bad.
And in terms of religious relations, talking with Christians, they say you cannot criticize Islam. And it would be a stupid thing to do anyway. I mean, that is not a very good way to make friends and influence people. If you want to talk about how great Jesus is, and why you believe what is, you can elevate anything, just do not put anything down. And that this forms a fairly deep cultural context, which draws up many things in Indonesia.
In Indonesia, Islam was largely spread through peaceful means by traders and missionaries, often with Chinese or Central Asian ancestry. There is a lot of Chinese Islamic influenced, and this led to a fairly open society and the development of a civil society. I have already mentioned several times Nahdlatul Ulama as a Muslim organization. Another large one, Muhammadiyah, [has] 30 or 40 million followers. And what are they? Well, they have their mosques. you will see a mosque, oh, this is a Nahdlatul Ulama mosque, or this is a Muhammadiyah mosque. But many people who are members of them are not in this thing.
I do not know if you look up like the Knights of Columbus, which does not have its own mosque obviously, but they interpenetrate churches. But Nahdlatul Ulama has its base in villages and churches, and basically boarding schools. It has tens of millions of students in Islamic boarding schools, runs magazines, hospitals, has charitable work, social work, twenty-two universities and thousands of schools.
Muhammadiyah is very similar. There is a civil society here. That there is all this Islamic activity, which is not state-controlled. That is very unusual in the Muslim majority world. Things tend to be strongly related to the state. Even if they are Islamic-funded, they are not self-funded, whereas these groups are self-funded. They are civil society groups, they are running universities, they are running schools, and they do not expect the government to be backing them all the time. Culturally this is meant that Indonesian scholars stress the Islam of the islands, Islam Nusantara. And sometimes this has been described it often is syncretic. I talk to people, people at the State Department. While they are not really Muslims, you know they are sort of half Hindu with a Muslim veneer, and there is a lot of anthropology which says this. But there is enough recent scholarship which argues this is a very strong form of Islam. Building on to quote Anjasmara Azura, the major scholar of this. It has Asharite (Ash’arism) theology. It has Ghazali Sufism as its spirituality, and Islamic law, Sharia, the Shafi Muda.
If you understand those things together, for those people who know what those mean, it has a coherent pattern which many Indonesian Muslims would describe as Wasatiyyah Islam, the Islam of the middle path, the middle way. they are very happy with the term moderation Madrasi, which Indonesia has the sense of balance, it is a semi-Asharitian. The harmony does not mean you do not care. It does not mean you are just in the middle, but you look for balance. So, this reinforces understandings of Islam, that reject the idea of Islamic State, and favorite religious coexistence.
It grew up in particular historical circumstances, but it has developed its own integrity. There are dozens of universities in Indonesia, which develop and expound these Islamic ideas as authentic forms of Islam. If you check surveys by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, about how observant Muslims are, if you ask the question, “do you fast during Ramadan? Do you pay zakat, charitable alms? Do you pray five times a day?” The scores in Indonesia are much higher than they are in the Middle East. So, the scores in Malaysia, the scores in Thailand are over the roof. As they are in Africa, but when people say, well these ideas of Islam, which they are dealing with, are they really Muslims?
I say, well if you are looking for practice of the Five Pillars of Islam? Yes, they are. They do better than the Saudis do. Important for me to counter the ideas, which you sometimes run into, which is, well, the Saudis are the real Muslims. I have had this again with the State Department quite a few years ago, about three or four years after 9/11. State Department and other government organizations were still trying to form advisory committees with Muslims. Looking for recommendations, and we had a whole stack, at Hudson itself we still have four or five Muslim senior fellows, but we suggested one person or Muslim lawyer would be very good. And the responses were, “She is not a real Muslim, she is a Sufi.” Well, she is indeed a Sufi, like seventy-five percent of the Muslims in the world.
But the image there, let me add, I know the similar image amongst many theologically conservative Christians and blue conservative people, is that somehow the Saudis and similar things are the true authentic Islam. And these others? Well, not really. There are sort of deviant blend. I am not in a position to say what is the true form of Islam. It is a question I avoid. But I see no reason to pick a Wahhabi over my Indonesian friends. I take a pragmatic view: I want to defend the Muslims who want to have dinner with me from the Muslims who want to kill me.
Which brings me to speaking of these things, so that is some general comments on the sort of cultural – which has developed into a theological – background [on] Indonesia. This has also developed into strong efforts to counter Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia to the point of violence. In Java earlier on, but I will mention now, in Sumatra, going to war against Wahhabis. That is happened in Indonesian history at home.
To give one example, in the very early 1800s after the Saudis were exerting the influence – well Saudis were not around that, but the Wahhabis were exerting the influence within Arabia. Of course, it was a central area for study for Muslims throughout the world. You want to go to Mecca, you want to go to Medina, you want to go to Cairo and study, so Indonesians are going to study there. And then the Wahhabi influence in the in the late 18th century had grown. And by the 1800s, 1803, you started to get Muslims returning from study in Saudi Arabia back to Indonesia. And the example I will just give is in western Sumatra, and they get back to western Sumatra.
Well, the Muslims of western Sumatra have a lot of interesting patterns and customs. One of them is it is a matrilineal society. If you go to the very good religion news website, it is new this year, called Religion Unplugged, [it is] very good. I would recommend to everybody involved in that. It is called Religion Unplugged. I do not like the name, but I was outvoted. But the website is great, it has made a lot of fabulous things. But I had a piece there on West Sumatra, which I am talking about, which is called “My grandmother had eight husbands.” A historian who was telling us, he grew up there, so he knows it from his family. He is a trained historian, so he knows that. His grandmother said, “Oh, you are Elizabeth Taylor’s son.” No, it was not. I said at different times, “yeah, I think so.” But it is matrilineal. The women inherit everything.
Actually, a lot of the major figures in Indonesian history come from here. It produces bright people, but also if you are a man if you want to make a living, well probably best to go somewhere else because the women inherited all. So anyway, you can imagine someone is coming back from study in Makkah [Mecca]. Okay, and he is you know, mum and dad are gone. Mum is onto a couple of other husbands down the road. I do not mean they are swapping all the time, but the women are the center of the legal structure of inheritance. For this and many other reasons, the people coming from Saudi, often younger, wanted to change this and the locals resisted it. Many other overtones but it came to war. It which went on for 20-25 years, and the Dutch use that as a means of taking it over.
So, conflict with Wahhabism is not just ideological, but to the point of killing is not new there. And the big organizations in Indonesia, to some degree, were founded as a counter to Wahhabism. Muhammadiyah, which I had mentioned, I will not say too much about, it was founded in 1912. And again, that was the worry about trends in Arabia. It is reformist. It is modernist in its view of Islam but tends to look to Egyptian reformers such as Mohammed Abdullah.
Nahdlatul Ulama, which I mentioned, was founded in 1926 partly in response to the Saudi destruction of tombs and other holy places in Mecca and Medina, and to rumors that the Saudis intended to destroy the Prophets’ tombs. For Nahdlatul Ulama, the tombs of saints are very important. Billions of people make pilgrimages to them, and so on. They saw this very much as a threat to their traditional Islamic practices.
And four years ago, when I attended the big Five-Year Congress of Nahdlatul Ulama, which is like a state fair, here is a Ferris wheel, art galleries, everything going on, I was looking at the bookstores and they were selling reprints of a book from 1922 called Menolak Wahhabi, Wahhabism rejected, which was by one of Nahdlatul Ulama’s founders. So there is not only a form of Islam reflecting particular cultural patterns, but also one which is theologically self-aware and is willing, literally, to fight about it.
This brings us full circle back to present conditions I have mentioned that Nahdlatul Ulama, and its youth wing, Ansor, have particularly been stressing to bring together sympathetic Muslims from around the world to articulate their versions of Islam. In May 2017, Ansor, the youth wing, convene more than three hundred international religious scholars to consider, and I quote the official English translation, “to consider the obsolete tenets of classical Islamic law.” And to call for, “perpetual conflict with those who do not embrace or submit Islam.” This gathering drafted a declaration on humanitarian Islam, which says, I quote again, “If Muslims do not address the key tenets of Islamic orthodoxy, that authorize and explicitly enjoin violence, that anyone at any time could harness orthodox teaching of Islam, to defy what they claim to be illegitimate laws, and the authority of an infidel state, and to kill their fellow citizens.”
There are a variety of declarations like this, the less well-known. People know about the Marrakesh declaration and statements out of Jordan and so on, which has some good things, but often tend to be very defensive. That these bad things have nothing to do with Islam, or do not record reflect proper Islam. In some ways that is a step forward, but another one is saying, well nothing to do with us, which is ducking the issue.
Whereas the statements out of Indonesia are far more self-critical. And a few more quotes Yahya [Yahya Cholil Staquf], who I had mentioned, I open by quoting his Daily Telegraph article. In July 2017, he was invited by Lithuania who was chairing the Presidency of the EU at the time and got Yahya to address the Council of the European Union Terrorism Working Party. An official address, this is this is on the web, you can get it on YouTube, and this is what he said to the European Union Working Group on Terrorism.
Western politicians should stop pretending that extremism and terrorism have nothing to do with Islam. There is a clear relationship between fundamentalism, terrorism, and the basic assumptions of Islamic orthodoxy. So long as we lack consensus regarding this matter, we cannot gain victory over fundamentalist violence within Islam. Within the classical tradition, the relation between Muslims and non-Muslims is assumed to be one of segregation and enmity. Why, no matter how many terrorists we kill, or put in jail, new recruits are always coming to join them? Here is the fact the problem lies within Islam itself. Jihad has doctrines, goals, and strategies can be readily traced to specific elements of orthodox, authoritative Islam, and its historic practice, including those portions of Fiqh. That is classical Islamic law that enjoyed Islamic supremacy.
And he also said, “Now you are ready to call me as islamophobia are not you, but I am the General Secretary of the world’s largest Muslim organization.”
One more of this, a further document from October of last year out of Indonesia. The Nusantara manifesto. Nusantara of the islands, the archipelago again incorporates this and many other statements, including actually the foreword, God Needs No Defense, from this book. And I should add that I was asked to do edits on the English translation of that particular statement, which I gladly did.
One of the things I raised in dealing with translations and other things, for some of these statements, I said when you use the term Islamic orthodoxy, and the problem is with Islamic orthodoxy, not just misinterpretations. The response given can be “are you Muslim?” I have been rejecting Islam, what is your view. You need to say a bit more about what you mean, and to which Yahya, and I am using him as a single voice, but we are dealing with hundreds of people. This is by Islamic orthodoxy. I do not mean the Quran, the Hadith, I am a Muslim. I believe God spoke those and speaks to us, I follow them, I am bound to them.
It says, but in the first 400-500 years of Islam, this was systematized into a procedure of Islamic law, which we now call Sharia, which comes, develops in the 10th, 11th, 12th century and so on, and divides the world into the realm of Islam and the Realm of war. Talks about relations with the infidels, and so on. All of which was shaped in a time of conflict, and many other things, and I do not regard that as binding. These are humanly made, these are Muslim interpretations of our founding texts, developed in particular historical circumstances, which are not applicable now. And indeed, I think there were many errors in those. What you need to realize is that ISIS, and others, can draw on this body and they are not being stupid in doing so. I do not necessarily mean their right, but to pretend they just came out of left field with these weird ideas which have no rootage in what is called classical orthodox Islam is simply wrong.
So, this is mainly in the form of statements, but having increasing influence, I know Yahya has met with Vice President Pence at least twice maybe a third time at the religious freedom ministerial here in July. But this is getting a wider and wider hearing. Just to conclude with him Yahya, going back to his Daily Telegraph article, concludes with an appealed,
To people on both sides of the political divide in the west of all faiths and none to renounce the practice of weaponizing Islam either way, for partisan advantage, and join us in the desperate struggle to reform, obsolete, and problematic tenets of Islamic orthodoxy, rather than bequeath a tragic legacy of hatred and violence to future generations.
While Nahdlatul Ulama as a whole has not endorsed the statements and decorations, Yahya is has told me that they are discussing it, and personally he has suffered very little criticism. The arguments that he and many others are making all truly radical and are crucial in the combat with extremism, and they are gaining increasing attention. Thank you very much.
Often less influenced, more easily predisposed young people are used for terrorism, for example, so even though in your talk that you said it is globally uncool, you are expected to rise out of the woodwork. Islam will become Islam only, which I think is a correct expectation. That is the way that real world is, it is that way almost globally. So, I wonder in Indonesia, how does this divide? Are they able to insulate themselves from the global media? And its definition of what is cool and uncool. Do they have a different cool or uncool, and is it influential or is it divided on that?
Okay, they are the sort of hegemonic forms of Islam, which you have in Muhammadiyah, or Nahdlatul Ulama. That is what most Muslims in Indonesia tend to follow. Not that they think about it much. That is what you do. That is your denomination, so to speak. In terms of media, especially social media, they are markedly deficient. You have in Indonesia, and everywhere else in the Muslim world, people who have their TV shows. To use a horrible Christian word, Televangelist types, some of whom are pretty good at it, I mean they are radical. But the radicals are very good at media, and I and others have said this to Nahdlatul Ulama, who is lousy at it. Just a very traditional Muslim organization. I said, “Look, one radical preacher has moved 100 times as many YouTube videos as your entire organization. And they are far more lively”. So, your presence on the web, as you know, a lot of radicalism is web spread, you will have heard the expressions you do not the virtual Oma or shake Google. This is where the kids get their information.
You will have a Muslim family may be very traditional, but you see pious withdrawn, not politically active. Abdullah, who is seventeen, is up in his room and he is on the web and he has got ISIS videos. Boy, are they exciting. They redubbed that movie 300 with Damage the Stars, they played the Spartans and this sort of stuff. So, you are getting that type of influence. And the organizations I am talking about are behind in that. They do reach young people. I mean, the organizations have millions of them. But on the media front, I would say, in general, across the Muslim, with one major caveat across the Muslim world, more radical forces are doing much better.
And let us apply this United States. Where are we in this? I am not sure if we are anywhere in these other forms of communication. we are just so bad at that. There is, I have mentioned the exception in terms of social media. Not so much sort of theological political argument. But social trends in media undercut radicalism. I remember, this is 20 years ago, when I was in Malaysia. I was staying with an Anglican Bishop, talking with his kids. They go to regular state school with them, Muslims, and whatever, and they say, “You mean you have Muslim friends?” “Yeah.” “You talk to each other about stuff. What are you talking about?” This is 25 years ago, they said Madonna. Muslim kids and Christian kids have a meeting point: rock music and popular culture.
And this is the case, a friend did stuff for the RAND Corporation. Looking at social media in the eastern Mediterranean Levant. Said one of the things which strikes amongst 16- to 25-year-olds is the number of atheists. I mean publicly out in the street they are not going to admit this. But you see what goes on their social website. they are just fed up with Iran. they are fed up with Islamic leaders. So yeah, if this is Islam, I do not want it. Anyway, long answer.
I ask a question relating to what you said about the influence of Chinese Muslims. How is China doing with its Uyghurs?
The Chinese have managed to buy off almost every significant Muslim country and almost none of them criticize China in it, and many have given some direct ideological support by saying, “These people are indeed terrorists, and China needs to do something about them.” I could not name specific countries and I have to go back and see who did and said, what, but as a generalization, China is getting a pass for most of the Muslim world, on its treatment of the Uyghurs. Erdogan recently started to make some noises about that, but then he backed off too. It is a shameful silence.
There is a bit more on the treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh, but again, relatively quiet on that score too. But with the Uyghurs, that has truly shaped China’s diplomatic effort, [which] has essentially bought off so many governments in Muslim majority countries.
What is to be done?
One of the major deficiencies of the movements I am talking about in Indonesia, is its lack of skill in media generally, and social media in particular. You get some. They have had some musicians. In fact, I have mentioned in this book before, God Needs No Defense, which is now the name of a very popular song in Indonesia. Those examples a few and far between. So, what are we to do in media and social media? You know, forget Indonesia, with everything else. we are talking about in dealing with Islamic radicalism. What do we do in that?
Secondly, a problem with Indonesia is it is a long way away from the Middle East, and it has got more people, but Saudi Arabia is the heartland, it has the holy sites, so people look at it. And there is a tendency in much of the Arab world to see other Muslims as, well, Arabic is God’s language, so the Arabs are God’s people. Well, the others are Muslims too, we are all together, but we are better Muslims than they are. So, if you are looking to Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and so on. So, there is a tendency to think we cannot learn anything from that.
To overcome that, that has also been part of the self-image of Indonesians and other things. we are not really good Muslims. We cannot even speak Arabic and the Quran is in Arabic. You can interpret it, but you cannot translate it, so we really do not know. For Indonesians and others, I mean with the heartland of the Muslim majority world being such a mess, Egypt has gone through various things, it is a basket case. Syria is in a civil war. Yemen is in a civil war. Iraq is in civil war; the Saudis and others are there. Turkey is going down whatever, and what has happened in Libya and other places.
For many other Muslims, particularly in Indonesia, are saying, who are you people to think you have to teach anybody anything about anything? You are a total mess. We [have] got problems, but our economy has been growing five to six percent a year without much oil for twenty years. And we have had twenty-one years of pretty free and fair elections. So, with all our problems, we are a functioning democracy with a growing economy and in purchasing power parity maybe in the top ten economies in the world, but certainly going to get there. So that gives a certain confidence that okay, most of us do not speak Arabic, but actually, if you are looking for a successful Muslim country, I mean, there are twenty-six million Christians in that country too, but yeah, we are fairly successful, so I do not think we need to stop backing up. How you penetrate that shell in much of the heartland of the Muslim majority world, so they will listen to others, and I think they have something to learn.
Another one is for people in the West to learn to listen. The voices I am mentioning are generally not known. Many of our politicians and others do not look to them for reasons. Some of them are fairly good reasons. I have just mentioned some of them do not have an effect. But we should be paying attention to them. If you want to raise questions about historical Islam, and you want to say that, well, ISIS did not just grow up out of the field in in Syria 15 years ago to be able to do this on the authority of major Muslim scholars. Some of them argue, well, if you do not like it, argue with him. We need to pay attention to them, and then develop links.
The Muslim world periphery is often not interconnected. One of the things, you know, as an outsider, as a non-Muslim, I will do too much there. Developing links between people in Malaysia and Indonesia, and then also India. There is a lot of Indian influence in Indonesia from two thousand years back, and more. There is a resonance. People can talk to that. we are trying to help facilitate discussions with Indonesian and Indian Muslims. So those are developing. Those are the two largest Muslim communities in the world.
Thank you very much. You contrast that the moderate Indonesian form of Islam or practice of Islam with the Saudi Arabian form of Wahhabism, which is rather different from the Qatari form of Wahhabism. Could you speak to the Muslim Brotherhood, and how it fits into the spectrum and also to the Salafis, particularly those engagement? Thank you.
Several things here. Firstly, dealing with the Salafis, course that refers to those who follow the ancestors. People who believe that the practice of the earliest generations of Muslims is the one we should follow. Now, in that sense, people we have been calling Wahhabis would regard themselves as Salafis, and they like the label Salafis. They hate the name Wahhabi because Wahab was a 18th century figure, and so you are saying we are just as 18th century grouping, whereas we are a basic Islam. You have Salafis like the Saudis, and you could probably also call ISIS Salafis, but you also have Salafis who are, so to speak, quietest. Who emphasize piety, who steer clear of politics. You want to pray, you give alms, you want to maintain your purity. Very traditional, very conservative, the status of women in those communities can be low. Very traditional. But they are not bothering other people.
In Egypt, the hegemonic form of Salafism has tended to be quieter, or at least not that political. In the case of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, when Mohammed Morsi with the Muslim Brotherhood government, when he was ejected in July 2013, they were rejected by pretty well every group in Egypt. When Sisi appeared on stage to say basically, we are removing Morsi from office. He had pretty well everyone on that stage with him. The Coptic Pope was there, which I think was a lousy idea. He just sort of stayed away.
But the leaders of the Al-Nour Party, which was the Salafi party in Egypt. Using our hackneyed Left-Right system, the Al-Nour Party would be, so to speak, to the right of the Muslim Brotherhood, but they wanted the Brotherhood out. Egyptian Salafis, you would have some terrorist groups, but most are just very conservative Muslims in their practice mainly interested in the piety, in their family, in their community, of following those ways. They do not have a particular interest in trying to seize state power.
For the Brotherhood, the Brotherhood is that network of organizations. There has been discussion in Washington, you know, should the Muslim Brotherhood be listed as a terrorist organization? Other groupings have done that. The Emirates have done that. I cannot remember what the Saudis have, the Egyptian certainly have. The Brotherhood is variated, very varied. The Brotherhood in one country is not the Brotherhood in another country.
In Tunisia, Al-Nahda, which has been the Brotherhood, seems to have very genuinely, you know, committed itself to democratic politics. It has been in a coalition with the government, and it wants Islam to have a major influence on the politics of the country but does not seem to want to mount a coup and establish Sharia law. If you include Al-Nahda under, you know, a general listing of terrorist organizations, sorry it does not fit. They are like European Christian Democrats. Some other groups, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. That is a terrorist organization. With the Brotherhood in Egypt, it got power, it won the election, but the moves it made under Morsi were not basically directed towards government, good government for Egypt, but simply entrenching its power.
It would be like, say, if a communist party came in. It wants to entrench and get into control. By the time Morsi was removed, there was no parliament because the courts had found the election invalid. Morsi had said he could rule by decree and that the Supreme Court, the Egyptian equivalent the Supreme Court, could not countermand it. At that point, he was declaring himself as dictator. No legislature, and the law is called by me. That is why I object to the word ‘coup’ in removing Morsi. At that point the government was not properly functioning. The other side is, Sisi’s attacks on the Brotherhood were quite brutal. I do not know how many thousands of people were killed. The repression of the Brotherhood was very vicious. There are Muslim Brotherhood terrorists in Egypt now and there were not ten years ago.
I guess, just curious to hear your comment. Of course, you probably know about them, you briefly mentioned this in some of your other presentations, the incident about two years ago with the person running for governor [of Jakarta] of Chinese background. How would that play out with Nahdlatul Ulama, and so forth, and his philosophy of prosecution?
Some background. The man on the left is generally known by his nickname ‘Ahok’ [Basuki Tjahaja Purnama]. He was the governor of Jakarta, which is the capital, which in American terms was also a state. So, the head was not a mayor, it was a governor. He is ethnic Chinese in Indonesia, that is often the problem. Of the 10 richest businesspeople in Indonesia, 100% are ethnic Chinese. They are Indonesians, they go back generations, but unethically, they are Chinese. Oh, I am sorry. As you might have noticed, I like to, I like to be expressive. He is Christian, in a 90% Muslim country.
So those were, in terms of identity politics, two strikes against him. Except he is a very good governor. He was active, he was energetic. Jakarta has a million problems. He had about eight, nine months for the election, a popularity rating about 70%. He was thought to win. And then he gave a talk and basically said some people are trying to misuse the Quran to say that no Muslims could vote for a non-Muslim. Someone edited that and made it appear like a criticism of the Quran. And that went on the web. It was in fact a journalism professor who did that. He went to prison for it. The original one is on the web, available if you want it. Ten times as many people have seen the edited YouTube video. So, he was charged of blasphemy. Long story.
In the end, he was convicted. Even the prosecution asked for a suspended sentence. But the court had him jailed for two years. This condition, I mean, it is bad. But if he was in Pakistan, or Egypt, and Saudi Arabia he would be dead. He still got 42% by the way in the election, which ain’t bad, you know, for a blasphemer, but this polarized the country.
And back to the question: How did Nahdlatul Ulama? They were split. Very important figure, now the vice president of Nahdlatul Ulama, testified against Ahok in the trial, has since apologized for that. Nahdlatul Ulama was split, and Indonesian people got really split. I mean, they would not speak to each other, people would not go to weddings, or would not have dinner with other members. It is a bit like America these days. So that was a major negative, I know him a little. He is a very committed believing Calvinist by the way. The only sitting governor I have ever heard quote John Calvin, in a very good way. For those who know, also quoted Abraham Kuyper. He is a thoughtful man.
That polarize the country. One reason, the Indonesian version of this [holds up a book] was never published, the publisher got scared, it was in the middle of all this. Decided we are not going to publish a book on blasephemy. Even with the foreword by the former Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs, who at that point was the man of the national mosque. This polarized the country, and the big worry is that was the run for governor. And Ahok, who was a good friend of the current president of Indonesia, Jokowi [Joko Widodo], who was the previous governor. They had run together. What they did in the governorship election. Polarizing people, the accusation “you can vote for non-Muslim. He is a blasphemer, infidel.” The religious polarization of the election was seen by well everybody.
This was going to be a dry run for the presidential election which took place this year. And if something like this is done at the national level, it could blow the country apart. There were efforts made in this direction, but they were not that strong, and they did not win. Jokowi was reelected. Ahok was released from prison in January of this year, and they went to visit the leader of the largest political party in the country the same day. Said there was some birthday the previous day, and just wanted to say happy birthday. But when you come out of prison and go to visit the most important politician in the country, it is probably not to say happy birthday. So, he is not out of the running, we will see.
I visited him in prison last summer, and he was in good spirits. He is being held not in a jail cell, but actually in the headquarters of the riot police. They said this was to keep them safe. Probably true that people might want to kill a blasphemer. Also, he had a nice apartment and good exercise and good food and had tea all the time. He did not want to be imprisoned. Nobody wants to be imprisoned, but his conditions of imprisonment, were not that bad. I said, “Well, what do you want to do when you get out?” He said, “Oh, I want to be president of Indonesia.” I think it is unlikely, but who knows. He is not that old. So anyway, that is the answer. It is split Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhammadiyah, and everybody, but the fact that it did not happen in the presidential elections this year, I think it is an important breakthrough. Thank you very much.